Endpaper Nails: Fancy Pants Water Marbling

This manicure seems practical. Because, you know, practicality is such a consideration in my life.

Mar 2, 2012 at 6:00pm | Leave a comment

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I did a lot of stuff with paper for a while there. Origami, of course, and book making. Paper arts in general. I even did some water marbling to make super fance decorative papers.

So when I heard about water marbled manicures, I got really excited. I knew how to do this! I just had to apply it to my fingernails.

When you marble paper, you float your paint on the surface of a shallow container of water. The paint is transferred to the paper with almost the exact swirl pattern that you've created on the surface of the water. It's easy to mess up your paper because you have to lift it back off of the water.

In fact, because you don't have to try to pick your fingernails back up off the paint, I think water marbling your fingernails is actually easier. And also I don't have a lot of use for decorative papers right now so the manicure seems more practical. Because, you know, practicality is such a consideration in my life, right?

There are a lot of YouTube tutorials for this; I can't even recommend one over the others because the technique is largely the same no matter what you watch. Finger goes in, toothpick sweeps up the excess polish, finger comes out. I'd suggest watching a bunch of the videos just to make yourself feel more comfortable. Also, check out the entries at My Simple Little Pleasures for water marbling. My nails are way shorter than hers, but the photos are still really good inspiration for color combinations and patterns.

Then I'd suggest gathering up what you need:

  • A small cup (like the paper cups you use in the bathroom)
  • 15+ toothpicks
  • Masking tape (or clear tape)
  • Nail polish remover and cotton balls (for cleanup)
  • Paper towels (for protecting your coffee table)
  • Base coat
  • Two or three or four colors of nail polish (this is up to you and your design)
  • Top coat

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If you put cold water in your cup, your fingers are going to get cold. Remember this, especially if you are, like me, prone to being cold anyway. Also, cold water will make the polish dry too fast to swirl it -- use room temp water. Some tutorials calls for using distilled water. I used tap water. Because that's what I had. And also, I don't like making things needlessly complicated.

When you marble paper, you're supposed to put a drop of dish washing soap in the water. You don't need to do that here. But a drop of clear polish actually will help your other colors disperse. So do that.

Some polishes work better than others. I loved how my Orly polishes worked; the Orly black was far more intense than the black by China Glaze, for example. My Sally Hansen Complete Manicure colors were the surprise victors in this particular competition though. Those suckers spread right out and offer really nice and opaque coverage as well.

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The common complaint that I've seen all over the Internet is how much time this technique takes. Yes -- it is absolutely more time consuming than just polishing your nails. Start to finish, even feeling really confident in my abilities and using a few time-saving cheats, this takes me a solid hour if not an hour and a half. Sometimes I need that time to wind down, so I don't begrudge it. But this isn't the manicure to go for when you're in a hurry or you're too jittery to sit down for a little while.

This is one of those slow-and-steady-wins-the-race manicures.

You drop polish onto the surface of the water (wait until there's a thick droplet suspended on your brush, then gently touch the surface of the water with the droplet, not the brush itself) until you have enough concentric rings to cover the surface of your cup. Then you use a toothpick to swirl the polish. If you have been too slow, the polish will already be dry and pull apart. It's worth taking the time to practice this a little bit. And, seriously, watch the tutes. They help.

Once you're happy with your swirling abilities, you can actually dip two fingers at once -- that saves a heck of a lot of time. As does skipping the undercoat of color that some people recommend.

The thing that actually takes the longest is masking your fingernails off. I use masking tape instead of cellophane tape because that's what I had on hand. I do one hand at a time because manipulating bottle caps with tape-covered fingers is a little like trying to knit while wearing mittens. Thick mittens.

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Having someone on hand (ha! see what I did there?) to tear off pieces of tape makes things move a little faster. At-home manicures are fun for the whole family, right?

I've read that vaseline or cuticle oil can also be applied all over your finger. Then you can just wipe off the excess polish from dipping. But that seems, to me, like an invitation in smudging the hell out of your carefully dipped nails. Peeling off the tape is a whole lot easier than screwing around with cotton balls.

Can you tell that I don't actually like cotton balls all that much? They get stuck in everything.

Seriously. The tape is the way to go.

The first I did this manicure, I wound up with weird little divots in my nail polish. I realized that it was from water droplets sitting on my wet polish -- when they dried, they left behind a little hollow.

Solution? Blow. Like, literally. Well, air, not cocaine. Blow on your nails with a sharp puff to shatter the few little water droplets. It's silly, but it works. Then use your quick dry topcoat to seal things up.

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I peel off the tape first -- as long as I'm a little careful around the cuticles, I'm not in any danger of messing up my polish.

The end result is what makes all this effort worth it. I keep having people ask me if I swirled the polish on my nail, or if I painted the individual swirls of color on one at a time. Friends grab my fingers to look at my nail polish when they notice what's going on.

This is one of those things you either love -- and so you don't mind the time it takes -- or you don't care, in which case it's way too fiddly. I am definitely in the love camp. It's fun and it's pretty. And, unlike all that marbeled paper, I get to carry this around with me everywhere and show it off.